Merit and Blame in Unequal Societies: Explaining Latin Americans' Beliefs about Poverty and Wealth

Mauricio Bucca, Cornell University

Popular beliefs about the causes of inequality are thought to reflect the actual social stratification. This article analyzes the case of seven Latin American countries as an example that challenges this intuition. In these rigid and unequal societies, people are more likely to believe that wealth and poverty depend on individual merits rather than structural constraints. Drawing on data from the 2007 Social Cohesion Survey, we use multinomial logistic regression and counterfactual simulation to investigate the factors that drive popular beliefs about wealth and poverty at the individual-level, as well as across countries. Findings challenge traditional hypotheses, describing a more complex picture where, along some dimensions of stratification, the most disadvantaged legitimize the origins of wealth and poverty, while the most advantaged maintain structuralist accounts. In particular, we find a novel effect of social class. Additionally, our simulations reveal that variation across countries is only explained by unobserved country-level factors.

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Presented in Poster Session 8: Economy, Labor Force, Education, and Inequality/Gender, Race and Ethnicity